C – Jose Alvarez – In the day and age of MLB offense, one can’t help but be swayed with the idea that every position has to hit for a team to be successful. Sure, catcher is a position too, but of all the positions on the field, the one that absolutely requires the steadier glove above the potent bat is the catcher. Not everyone is Piazza or Posey. And in the case of the Astros, why does a catcher need to hit when your eight other positions are filled with that?? In other words, Houston’s catcher ranks are filled with more defense minded players than bat-oriented, as evident by (pencilled in) opening day starter Robinson Chirinos (career .233 batting average, .993 fielding percentage) and backup Max Stassi (.career .233 batting average, .995 fielding percentage). So, when choosing our OAS, would a .359 batting average and .987 fielding percentage work for you? That’s what second-year catcher Jose Alvarez did for the DSL Astros this past summer. In fact, he not only led the DSL squad in hitting, but ranked fifth in the entire Dominican Summer League. Now some people may say that it’s a skewed number since the 6’1”- 180 lb. 18-year-old played in only 44 of the league’s 72 games. It’s a sample size, but a drastic improvement off his debut season where he batted a putrid .204 with only two extra-base hits in 51 games. Plus, if major publications can place players in their top 10s who haven’t swung at or thrown a professional pitch, we can choose guys like Alvarez. 1B – Jake Adams – In the grand scheme of things, soon to be 35-year-old Yulieski Gurriel has a handle on the first base job in Houston. Of course, prospect-wise, Houston could turn to AJ Reed or Taylor Jones, both 25, in a pinch. Reed, in 48 career major League at bats has a .153 average with three home runs and eight RBi. Jones, who’s yet to reach the majors, boasts a career .254 average with 163 RBi and 33 home runs; with the majority of them coming last season where he hit 18 across Double and Triple-A. Both are great defenders. However, the first base top prospect perch belongs to Yordan Alvarez. The Astros #3 prospect over at Baseball America torched Double and Triple-A pitching last season with a combined .293/.369/.534/.904 slash line, 20 home runs and 74 RBi. And with a similar go-around in Triple-A like 2018, he could easily leapfrog Reed and Taylor, making first base his for the taking. So, this gives UTR room to breathe and is a reminder that this is an All-Star list, making Adams a good choice. The 6’2- 250 lb. Adams came to Houston via the 6th round in 2017. The former Iowa Hawkeye batted an anemic .170 for Tri-City of the New York-Penn League, but 16 of his 28 hits went for extra bases and his 10 home runs led the team. Last season, the righty swinger received a push to LoA Quad Cities where in 48 games he increased his average a whopping 107 points from the year before, hit eight home runs and drove in 23 before a promotion to second-year HiA affiliate Buies Creek. With HiA, his average dropped to .222 yet he added another seven home runs and 23 RBi. I think Adams has punched his ticket to Double-A Corpus Christi for this coming season, but as far as supplanting Alvarez, I just don’t see that happening. 2B – Osvaldo Duarte – It’s crazy to look at a .316/.386/.451/.837 slash line, 13 home runs, 61 RBi and 17 stolen bases and consider that a down year. Well, that’s what World Series champion, 6-time All-Star and former A.L. MVP Jose Altuve produced in 137 games last season. In other words, the bar has been set, and when looking down through Houston’s second base prospect ranks, it’s almost a mute point to try and predict who the heir apparent is at the keystone, especially with a talent like Altuve leading the way, and whose contract runs all the way through 2024. So, I’m not going to get too excited here, but Altuve’s standing doesn’t mean this year’s OAS Osvaldo Duarte is anything to sneeze at. In his fifth year with the organization, the 5’9”- 160 lb. 23-year old spent all season with HiA Buies Creek batting .276 with seven home runs and 21 stolen bases, while his 134 hits, 68 runs scored, 22 doubles and 194 total bases led the team. With Aledmys Diaz and Tony Kemp poised for bench duties this year in Houston, I can absolutely see Duarte eventually seizing a backup role, possibly even a super utility spot with the big league club, as he’s registered defensive time everywhere on the diamond except catcher, first and pitcher in his minor league career. 3B – Abraham Toro – Sticking with HiA Buies Creek (sort of), the 22-year-old Toro mowed his way through HiA pitching last year, then went onto Double-A Corpus Christi (in early July) where, between the two levels, hit a combined .247 with an astounding 35 doubles, 16 home runs, 78 RBi and cored 70 runs. However, much like Osvaldo Duarte behind Jose Altuve, Toro sits behind All-Star MVP and World Series champion Alex Bregman, who batted .286 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 51 doubles. So, it’s safe to say that Bregman probably doesn’t have to look over his shoulder anytime soon. However, the 6’1”-190 lb. switch-hitting Toro is no slouch. In fact, as the 2016 – 5th rounder out of Seminole State College (OK) has ascended through the system, pound-for-pound, his offense has gotten better each season. It’s probably safe to say that Toro’s future could be similar to that of Duarte’s: ticketed for a backup role, that when called upon, could actually help you instead of hurt you with the bat, and Toro also has some limited experience as a catcher too. SS – Freudis Nova – Here we are again where we have a super-stud major leaguer sitting high above the organizational landscape with several options below who could very well be vying for future backup duties. 2015 Rookie of the Year and World Series champion Carlos Correa, like many other Astro hitters, suffered his “worst” season as a pro posting a 110 game slashline of .239/.323/.405/.728 with 15 home runs and 65 RBi, all career lows. But, Correa, who’s on the final year of his contract, then poised for Arb 2 and 3 in 2020 and ‘21, has a lot of room to breathe. The system has depth at shortstop, but nothing that threatens Correa’s status as a major league starter, for now, as 6’1”- 180 lb. Freudis Nova has fastened himself as the Astros top minor league shortstop. Nova brought above-average power, plus bat-to-ball skill and great bat speed to the DSL for his pro debut in 2017. He batted .247 with 10 extra bases hits (four homers) and 16 RBi. He stole eight bases and walked 15 times to 33 strikeouts. In 2018, the righty swinging Dominican native upped his batting average to .308, but hit as many home runs (6) as he drew walks, and this has to improve. His selectivity at the plate is key to his growth as a hitter because he displays everything else you’d want in a bat. Once he figures it out, Houston could have their next great middle infield prospect. It’s just going to take time. LF – J.J. Matijevic – With guys like uber prospect Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw (minor league’s stolen base champion in 2018 with 70), Derek Fisher, Ronnie Dawson and possibly Carmen Benedetti competing for outfield playing time in the near future, UTR is going add another to the mix in 2017 – 2nd rounder J.J. Matijevic. The Astros selected the 6’0”- 205 lb. lefty out of the University of Arizona and he brought with him a plus-hit tool, huge raw power and a good arm. In his 2017 debut with SS Tri-City, he struggled with average, batting .240, but popped 14 doubles and six home runs, along with 11 stolen bases. After 53 games, Houston shipped him to LoA, and in six games with Quad Cities, he crashed, registering a .125/.192/.250/.442 slash line with only one home run and four RBi. He began 2018 back with Quad Cities and looked like a totally different hitter batting .354 with nine of his 17 hits going for extra-bases. After 13 games he was promoted to HiA Buies Creek, and despite the near 100 point reduction in batting average, the power arrived in droves. He led the team with 19 home runs and RBi, and ranked second in doubles and total bases. CF – Corey Julks – Despite playing zero games in center field in 2018, I had to find a way to get the 2017 – 8th rounder out of the University of Houston onto the OAS list. It might be a stretch, but when you look at the calling card of what a the prototypical center fielder should offer: fielding, hitting, speed, power and arm strength. Corey Julks checks all the boxes. He suffered a poor pro debut in 2017, batting only .176 with four extra-base hits and nine stolen bases in 32 games, however he did post 18 walks to 19 strikeouts. But in 2018, he didn’t even look like the same player. He was moved to LoA Quad Cities to begin the season. He hit .259 with 12 doubles, four home runs, 31 RBi and 14 stolen bases before receiving a mid-June promotion to HiA Bueis Creek. Once in the Carolina League, he pressed the gas even more to the tune of a .282/.362/.458/.820 slashline, adding six more homers, 18 more doubles and 16 stolen bases. This all adds up to a .270 average, 30 steals bases, 30 doubles and 10 home runs. I believe in fantasy, anyone would take this every day of the week. Sounds like one helluva center fielder to me. RF – Seth Beer – With the last name “Beer”, how on earth could the 2018 -1st rounder out of Clemson University be omitted from this list?!?! Aside from his all-star level name, he posted pretty incredible numbers in his pro debut. The 6’3”- 195 lb. lefty combined to hit .304, 12 home runs, drive in 42 runs and score 39 in 67 games across three levels. Plus on the defensive side, he committed only two errors all season (one at first base, the other in left field) which equals an above-average fielding percentage. This guy is not only minor league promotion gold, but the next great Houston outfield prospect. He might begin 2019 back in HiA, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him receive an aggressive push to Double-A Corpus Christi. He’s that good. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Brandon Bailey – (20.5) / AA Corpus Christi
** Bailey came to the Astros via a late season trade after the 2017 season. Across two levels last season, the 6th round pick from 2016 nearly registered 20% of his strikeouts by the swing and miss. He posted 136 K’s over 122.2 innings (10.0 K9) and an impressive 6.6 H9 rate. Bailey has four pitches, a fastball that hits low-to-mid-90s, a curve and changeup, and a slider that ranges in the mid 80s.
2. RHP Cristian Javier – (15.5) / HiA Buies Creek “Legit UTR”
** Javier continues to impress since making my 2016 International Watch list. He’s posted double-digit strikeout rates each season, but there is a distressing trend in his walk rate.
3. RHP Leovanny Rodriguez – (12.5) / LoA Quad Cities “Legit UTR”
** Rodriguez was an extra name added to the Astros 2017 UTR-OAS roster due to Forrest Whitley receiving the PED suspension. The 22-year old Dominican saw his first full season at Quad Cities in 2018 and posted a modest 4.43 K/BB rate. Rodriguez was a 2017 UTR Organizational All-Star and my Astros pick for the 2018 “One to Watch”
4. RHP Peter Solomon – (11.5) / HiA Buies Creek
5. RHP Tyler Ivey – (11) / HiA Buies CreekTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained1. RHP Carlos Sanabria – (9) / HiA Buies Creek2. RHP Tanner Duncan – (9) / HiA Buies Creek3. RHP Brendan Feldmann – (8) / AA Corpus Christi